Kayak Fishing Safety 101 | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
Wearing your PFD is the first step in smart kayak fishing. Wearing your PFD is the first step in smart kayak fishing. Photo: Ben Duchesney

Protect yourself and be prepared so you can keep on fishing.

The recent death of a kayak angler in Virginia reinforces how important it is to be safe on the water–especially while anchoring the kayak. Anchoring is one of the most dangerous maneuvers for a paddler. One wrong move and the boat can flip and the angler can be swept away. Kayak Angler asked four kayak fishing safety experts for tips and tactics on wearing a PFD and anchoring a kayak. Here's what we learned: 


1) Jeff “Birdsnest” HermanJackson Kayak and Werner Paddles pro staffer, ACA certified instructor, writer and avid fisherman.

–Every car is equipped with seat-belts, but funny, none of them work unless a person wears them. A PFD is your seatbelt. You can go paddling 50, 500, maybe even a 1000 times and never need it, but on the day you do need it? I sure hope you are wearing it.
Find a PFD you like. Many fishing PFD's are oversized with extra pockets and end up feeling bulky. Check out some of the sleek touring and whitewater PFD's. They are trimmer and more comfortable. NRS makes some great PFDs. I use their Zen rescue PFD. Low profile and has a tow ring belt in. Better yet, it even has a hand-warmer for use during the winter months. Brilliant.
2) John "Toast" OastOcean Kayak pro staffer, founder of both the Pennsylvania Kayak Fishing Association and the Williamsburg Kayak Fishing Association in Virginia. He owns Susquehanna Fishing Magazine and Fishyaker.com.
On PFDs:
Wearing your PFD while on the water can be the difference between life and death. I won't be caught paddling without mine. Being a Red Cross instructor, law enforcement officer, and having lost my cousin to drowning while kayaking, I take the wearing of a PFD very seriously. 
Since most fishing PFDs are designed with pockets and attachment points, I store a lot of my needed accessories in and on my jacket. This way, if I leave the shore, I know I always have a pair of pliers, tape measure, hand sanitizer, small rag, knife, spare car key, reel lube, braid scissors, whistle, and fish attractant right within reach. 
I also store my PFD in a crate on my trailer, so I won't accidentally leave home without it. Now some states are even being more proactive with life jacket regulations, such as Pennsylvania, which requires the wearing of PFDs between November 1st and April 30th on all kayaks and canoes.
On Anchoring:
Having cut my kayak fishing teeth on moving water in Virginia, and now Pennsylvania, I can't emphasize how careful one must be when anchoring in such water. I conduct kayak rigging seminars around the US, and usually talk a little about anchors and anchor trolley systems.  I always start off with a caveat about the dangers of anchoring before we begin to discuss the subject.
A number of years back a very good friend of mine was anchored over a tunnel across a shipping channel in Virginia.  There had been a decent amount of rainfall leading up to that day.  When the tide turned and started to roll out, it combined with the outgoing flow from the James River.
Just after the tide shifted, his entire kayak began to be pulled beneath the water.  Having a sharp knife handy was the difference between him just being a little wet and paddling back to shore, and having to swim back through the shipping channel!
When talking to groups about rigging anchor trolleys, I am usually asked about tying off an anchor line to the side of the kayak. I always respond that doing such is not the best practice. Even if someone is anchored in a lake or pond, strong gusts of wind could do a number on a kayak anchored off the side.
Always anchor off the bow or stern of the kayak, which minimizes the surface area of the kayak facing into the current and helps the kayak to cut through the moving water. Installing an anchor trolley just makes it that much easier to do so.  That being said, the aforementioned story was on a kayak using an anchor trolley and anchored parallel with the current.
3) Ken TaylorNative Watercraft pro staffer, West Wall Boat Works pro staffer and West Marine Fort Meyers pro staffer.
The Wear It Florida campaign to encourage anglers to wear their PFD's is big here in Florida and tries to educate anglers on why and when to wear their PFD's. I wear a manual inflatable vest powered by a CO2 cartridge as it is very lightweight without the bulk of a heavy paddling vest. I also don't get hot being that it is lightweight and fairly breathable.
The reason you always wear a PFD is that you never really know when you'll need it as no one can tell when an emergency situation will arise, that's why it's an emergency or worse, a boating accident. The PFD is always at the ready if you're wearing it and you don't have to search for it if you get thrown out of your kayak by a wave or lean over too far and flip over; or the kayak get's swamped in heavy current.
Also it's a good idea to replace the CO2 cartridge every year or two regardless if the indicator says green or not, just to be on the safe side.
I did have a fishing buddy that fell out of his boat and accidentally drowned a few years ago. He was an excellent fisherman and a very nice man. I still think about him and how shocked I was to learn that he drowned from being thrown overboard while he was not wearing a PFD.
As a person that sells marine, fishing and boating equipment for a living. I take this responsibility very seriously and take great care to outfit my customers with the best safety equipment they can afford. You don't ever bet your life on the cheap equipment, but instead buy quality that will last, fit you properly and work correctly when you need it in an emergency since you may only have one chance at survival. Make it count!

4) Chris LeMessurierWilderness Systems and River2Sea pro staffer, IGFA state record holder and American Canoe Association kayak instructor.

–A PFD is an absolute "must" for me and all my clients that I instruct or guide. It boils down to comfort and fit.  If the PFD doesn't fit properly, then it won't be comfortable.  If its not comfortable, then it won't be worn.  If its not worn then it does no good whatsoever.
The tragedy in Virginia is more than just PFD or not...and anchor or not.  In my opinion, his best chance of surviving this accident would have been to have someone with him. Sometimes self-rescue isn't enough and having another paddler to help can make all the difference.


Want more kayak fishing or paddling safety tips? Check out the American Canoe Association to find an instructor near you and learn expert safety tips in person.

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